_INTERVIEWS

Interview with Anton Hasell, Nov 2011

The following interview was conducted with Anton Hasell in November 2011 for a website I had setup called Golden ArtNet. The website was dedicated to “Exploring the creative energies of the western central highlands, from Ballarat to Bendigo … and everywhere in between. Seeking out the best contemporary art from the region and delving a little deeper into its development, its production, and the people who create and present it.”

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Recently the Glenlyon Sculpture Show was reviewed here at Golden ArtNet and on the night of the opening, by a happy quirk of fate, I was fortunate to meet with the judge of the show, Anton Hasell. We got to chatting and I got the impression he was something of an intellectual powder keg – full of energy and enthusiasm, ready to explode with a battalion of ideas and insights. The perfect candidate for an interview really, where I could lob topics at him and he would crackle and fizz and explode out a cacophony of insightful fireworks. My expectations were actually out-stripped by Anton’s generous replies to my prodding queries.  Grab a cuppa, get comfy, and come along for the ride…

KENT: Hello Anton! So here’s an odd connection of links to set up my first question – we met recently for the first time over dinner and one of the discussions was about insomnia. I’m a regular insomniac and when I used to live in the city a few years ago I’d often go to Birrarung Marr and go to the bells there at around 2am just to think and try to wind down. Turns out you have some connection to that sculpture! What is it about bells that excites you and how’d that commission come about?

ANTON: Hi Kent, The silence of the bells at 2 am must be a kind of music of the mind, very in the Asian Bell tradition of sending sound waves ((((bell strike)))) through the earth to the ever-listening ancestor. Under Korean temple bells a hole is cut into the earth for exactly this purpose, to let the ((((‘call of Buddha’)))) resonate with ancestors. So I can imagine a collection of your sleepless ancestors gathering around you and the bells in the installation, but how you find the urge for sleep at that creepy time is beyond me!

My interest in bells began indirectly in 1990. When lecturing at VCA, I worked with the ‘Gonghouse’, a found-object percussion group, to cast a number of bronze gongs at the VCA foundry over the summer break. We had great fun molding, casting and tuning the gongs (and writing an unsuccessful Australia Council Grant proposal) over that period. By 1994, coincidentally, a series of bronze sculptures I was working on exploring the concept of an island rising from its surrounding sea began to take on a bell-like form, enough so, that I finally made a series of them with clappers. In 1995, inspired by these little bells, I proposed three bells on a bronze post for a commission that was advertised to celebrate Vision Australia’s centenary. The ‘Tilly Aston Bell’ (In the Kings Domain Park Melbourne) has its 3 bells supported by a bell-shaped base that was fitted with 3 movement sensors to ring each bell as people passed by. My proposal was chosen and during the making of the work I teamed up with Neil McLachlan who was teaching at RMIT and had been part of the ‘Gonghouse’ gong-making event at VCA. He had heard through Neville Fletcher of a Dutch Bell foundry using Finite Element Analysis software to model new bell designs and accessed the software at Melbourne University to design the 3 bells to be in a tuning relationship with one another. I hand built the bells to the computer’s specification and when cast each bell was surprisingly close to the computer’s prediction for its partial frequencies. Knowing that with research resources a lot more could be discovered about bells, I enrolled at RMIT University as a PhD by thesis student (having just completed a Masters degree on public art at the VCA) and Neil and I wrote an ARC research grant proposal that was, unsurprisingly in retrospect, unsuccessful. However, Jonathan Mills, the director of the Centenary of Federation Festival knew of our work and invited us to undertake 3 ‘Federation Bells’ projects. These were a carillon of new bell designs for the City of Melbourne, a two-octave set of Harmonic Bells for the MSO and 2001 Harmonic handbells (in 24 bell two octave sets) for community use.

The project, undertaken by Australian Bell, began in 1998 and was completed in 2002. The invention of the Harmonic bell was achieve with a combination of my sculptural intuition to propose the necessary, conical shape, the use of ReShape Finite Element Analysis software by Professor Josef Thomas at Advea Engineering to optimise the first ‘3-partial frequency’ Harmonic bell from that shape and the subsequent work by Dr N. McLachlan and Dr Behezad Keramti Nigjeh to model and optimise more complex versions of the conical Harmonic bell profile. I completed my PhD (” Multi-sensory Sites of Experience: Public Art Practice in a Secular Society”) in 2003. Since then my company, Australian Bell, has designed and proposed numerous public-space proposals designed to encourage people to gather together and share playful their creativity. This philosophy of public-space design, which I was first able to  demonstrated in the ‘Federation Bells Carillon’ in Birrarung Marr Park Melbourne, has been applied to all of my public-space projects, including, with Marcus Ward, the ‘Victoria Police Memorial’ in St Kilda Road Melbourne, The ‘Eureka Circle’ Installation in Eureka Park Ballarat celebrating the Eureka rebellion, and the ‘HMS Beagle Ship Bell Chime’  in Darwin to celebrate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday in 2009.

My work in public-space design concentrates on achieving the highest qualities of interactivity and participation that an artwork can offer the community in which it is sited. This might mean that for a bell instrument anyone anywhere in the world can compose for it or the installation may use video capture to map the movement of people through a site in real-time to ‘play’ say, ancient Chinese Nao bells, as in the example of my Melbourne Laneway Commission of 2008-9 “The Sound of Speed” with Terry McDermott. The philosophy could be applied to the design of spaces that beautifully overlay public and private use, as demonstrated in the kinds of experience the ‘Victoria Police Memorial’ generate for its visitors. Ultimately, though, I believe public-spaces should be created to be renewable ‘sites of experience’ (different at each new visit) that are able to attract people to come together in the space and through the site architecture, be enabled to share their creativity (and their playfulness) with one another. In doing so, they come to recognise themselves as an integral part of their community and their community will be better shaped by their contribution.

If the Public Art in the 19th century largely consists of statuary to celebrate significant individuals in society, and 20th century Public Art consciously reflects the architectural forms, materials and processes integral to the miracle of design and engineering that is modernist architecture, surely public-space design in the age of the ‘individual’, our 21st century, needs to develop cultural strategies for community building and community well-being.

So while Australian Bell (which holds a US patent for the Harmonic Bell design) continues to pursue projects that advance the design of new bells and public-space bell instruments, as its director, I also seek to make studio-based and public-space artwork that use the sensory experiences of sound, smell, touch and taste (Georgina Hilditch and I won a sculpture competition with a loaf of bread baked in the form of a portrait of Lenin) to revitalise my community and its sites of social engagement.

Often people think of my work as being only with bell design. But Kent, the seemingly impossible-to-resist desire to pidgeon-hole artists (and everyone) is a waste of time, as I let my curiosity run free to make any kinds of art I want, from painting, sculpture, sound-sculpture, bell design and poetry to, say, printmaking, (where I have developed over the last 6 years an exciting and innovative process of relief printing using laser-cut stainless steel plates). This process, like the design and making of bells, combines the manipulative power of digital technology with very ancient, traditional technology. I think the results of these kinds of technology combination, from the present and the past, have an archetypal resonance that just makes sense to we human beings. For an artist, one has to be on the edge of our seat in excitement and anticipation, seeing what’s needed, what’s important, before anyone else and feeling the frustration of trying to persuade recalcitrant others to the ‘rightness’ of the new vision, new forms, new processes and new feelings that lead to our better living. I spend a lot of time writing proposals, often uninvited, to try to get happening what seems to me, crystal-clear, desperately needed. The future is rich with possibility and an artist’s wonderful energy is in full flow, so persistence is the ignition key that will keep starting the future spluttering toward us.

Wow – I loved your description of my sleepless ancestors. Especially as many of them would almost literally be directly below my feet, right through to the very opposite side of the planet. The idea of sound waves pulsating right through the entire globe, rippling out through molten lava, layers of basalt and calling out to the dead european lineage of my ancestry is very romantic.

I never thought of the impact of technological development on something like bell making. It makes clear the relationship between mathematic formulation, natural patterns of behaviour (like soundwaves) and the pathway between idea and material creation mediated by technologies. When you talk about the community engagement aspect to public art and particularly in respect to bells, it reminds me of a summer I spent in a town in Italy called Prato. It was an old medieval walled-town with a church practically on every block. The bells all rang regularly and after a few weeks you could place yourself in the town by the sound of the bells. It was really a very tiny town, and yet the citizens were so parochially connected to the bells of the church on their own particular block. It was like they were an unseen flag marker for each small neighbourhood within the town.

You also reminded me of when I bought two bells for my cousin, for her wedding present. I looked all over the city for two bells that would have a nice harmonic tone when chimed together. I found lots of bells, but finding the right two that worked together was really hard. I think I annoyed the shit out of all the shop keepers, but I eventually got the right pair. I figured it was nice symbolism for a wedding.

You’ve spoken also of your interest in explorers and designing equipment for them as they plod their way about the landscape. You made a piece of equipment that incorporated the behaviours of budgies to find water that is equal parts genius and pythonian hilarity. Could you describe your interest in explorers and a little bit about that artwork?

Kent, actually, after I sent my reply to you yesterday I thought, gee, I should read other interviews you have done…. Hm, suddenly I see my response might have been way over the top for the format. But I am not good at sensitive artist talk, its all go for the jugular for me. The jugular of life (its meaning) politics (its form) economics (it service to each of us) and to philosophy (to be or not to be). Making art is polemical or, if its not polemical, then I don’t know what it is. Luckily, the first rule and the last rule for an artist is the same rule. Do what you want. What you do may be banal, may be insignificant, may be idiotic, may be radiant with sublime and perfect beauty, you know, like you sometimes get in an ABBA song. So ‘right’ that you just can’t breath and tears squeeze from your eyes! Anyway, to be an artist you must not work in the third person, you know, as if someone is looking over your shoulder, making you think to yourself, “will they like it?” Yes Yes Kent, I am getting to your question… let me drive the dirt tracks there though. I am trying to explore the explorer. You must just please yourself. Soon enough you will be dead and forgotten. Even my exquisite Dad who died 13 years ago is hard to remember for me, and if so true and complex fellow as him drifts in my mind (a small temple to his honesty) then what hope any one of us. I have seen teachers who put 30 years of dedication into their teaching institution and their students (not the same ones), and truly, two days after they retire the ripple in the pond settles and it is as if they had never been there. No, really, never been there at all! So, your delicate sensitivity and amusing insights will vanish, as will my polemical and rude shouts ” see..SEE See, I am telling you the truth….” but, note this, like Leichhardt marking trees with an ‘L’ along his way, I am stuffing my vision into bottles and throwing them into the sea hoping they get collected sometime in the future by a child on a beach, with whom they resonate. There is a Tom Bass public sculpture in Elizabeth St Melbourne I discovered when a child. I remember climbing all over it, and touching the Owl and Alice and being simply amazed by the uber-reality of it. Whenever I am near in the City I pass by and pay homage to that sculpture which was a message in a bottle to me. My art is sent out for others, across time, to be, connected, by, a…. what is it… well, what else could it be… that I told a truth for me however banal, obvious, unexceptional and foolish it may well be, but lovingly sent to you nevertheless.  I expect few to get it, even if they uncork it, look it over etc, after all it is sent from one passionate alive child to another.

Passionate, dreamy, alert and vital children do not, as a rule, amble along the beach, on holiday. They intensively search beaches looking for bottles. Leichhardt could see the truth of the the Australian topological skin. Crystal clearly. It was a perfect truth for him. The major rivers on the west of the dividing range flowed inland. Even the hairs on his own skin could feel the downhill pull of an inland sea. His first trek to Port Said crossed numerous rivers flowing up from the centre to the gulf.  The simple and overwhelming truth was that there was an inland sea, that he would be irresistibly drawn to it, and after a frolic in its waters he would make the traverse, camel-woman style, to the regions of Perth. In 1848 he set out and we await, patiently, his return. Meanwhile, like a child to his childishness, I determined to make more suitable navigational instruments for his further use. “Brother, Throw away the compass, the set square, those dividers, and sextant that barely gets people about in Europe, and mislead us here” I would have said ( and will when he comes back).  Each instrument’s connection to the landscape keeps it in proper adjustment. The Lunar Navigational instrument tracks the shifting glint of the moon across a bronze orb in a small water container, and by marking that journey throughout the night the instrument leaves a curve scraped in the sand. Some rudimentary calculus of the curvature directs the pathway forward. There is a ‘Solar Navigational Instrument’ and ‘Over-the-horizon Sonic Navigation Instrument which sounds a small harmonic bell and collects its echo through an elaborate ear piece. Close to the centre there is the ‘Inland sea Shell Navigational Instrument’ which is a cast bronze shell with ear piece on a bearing turntable allowing one to turn and listen for the loudest archetypal crash of waves, and an arrow to point out where this is coming from.  The ‘Water finding navigational Instrument’ is cleverness itself, if the psychology of birds is ever clever. Three magnifying glasses are aligned to make an adjustable telescope and two cast bronze budgies are perched upon it in splendid colour. At dusk, the flock is attracted (especially to the blue budgie) and visit with our decoys, only to, eventually bore of their stiff company and wheel away toward the nearest waterhole. By following the line of sight with the telescope, one then merely follows by foot to the water. Easy? Peasy! So, all the tools (there are more but it is too tiring to tell) that are needed and maps too! But not European drawn maps that can’t work in so flat and featureless plain as Australia. Instead, beautiful maps beaten out against the anvil earth in copper sheet, taken along for the purpose. Here every scrape and mark of the earth itself is transferred to each map, including the marks of previous and ongoing occupation, and in this way the subtle topology of a plain is captured as no eye can discern. Only the touch of a finger can read the braille of Australia. This our child Leichhardt knew as a truth. This he shared with us.  This is his message in a bottle that can be read by those whose passion and dogged honesty and clear sightedness and lovingness are shared with him. What a wonderful deal. Art is so like a secret code, those that so desperately want what they think it confers can never read it and understand it or feel it and those that it reaches are already alive to their own truths. Ironic! Paradoxical! Just as we know it should be, don’t you know! But the embrace of loving hands by artists (and thinkers) from the past is reassuring, I find. They are my friends and I connect with them through their works.  I visit those artworks that are important to me whenever I can, to touch my hand with the hand of the artwork’s maker. (Yes you can touch paintings, absolutely). Artwork is a portal through which the living meet their kind amongst the distant or dead. Sometimes the work of those living close by makes a truer connection than the person his or herself.  The blind, sadly, see the artwork only for itself, and venerate the article. museums can often white-glovedly collect the article, missing the window. Art is never the thing, only an avenue to it maker. Perhaps handled enough the less passionate might trip the hinge and lock and have the true meaning of the object glow in their hands, and …and… epiphanate (socialise with the alive that are dead). I can only hope so. But unless you can be convinced by child Leichhardt of an inland sea, to almost smell its salty fumes and hear its lapping waves, it is hard to see how the non-children can rid themselves of the only poison that art knows, cynicism and the social and intellectual architectures that this urge constructs.

I lived in Italy for a time too Kent, and noted the hill top churches madly ringing their bells in rocking, about to tumble towers, every evening. For me it seemed like some great ecclesiastical battle at the twilight end of each day with the church using bells like great cannon to claim the uncommitted souls of the people in the shadowed valleys between.  The powerful tradition in Europe has been for invading armies to claim the city’s bells and melt them and cast them into cannon (bell-founders become cannon-founders) and in victory, to melt the cannon into bells to ring out their celebrations. Even this shows that the only protection in this world is childishness if one is to avert one’s eyes from what lies in the darkened hearts of men. But I digress Kent, others you know will marry, and if its tuned bells you need, can I interest you in these beauties?……

Bells into cannons, cannons into bells and forever the cycle oscillates for mankind. That is quite a picture Anton. I’ve got plans in amongst my own notebooks for the use of bells in some kinetic sculptures. I even inherited a small bell just recently that I’m keeping just for that purpose. Now I know who to call on when I need more.

And don’t fear about fitting a format – this is just a friendly chat and exploration of ideas and it must follow its own organic path!

So it seems that there’s an element in your work about the passage and movement of peoples. Whether calling them together, or whether suitably arming them for adventures, there’s a sense that you are a guide of sorts. Conjuring apparatuses that act as intermediaries for journeys. Conduits, catalysts and connectors. You’ve been a teacher over the years and in many ways teaching strikes me as a similar sort of endeavour. You act as guide, pointing a way forward, offering directional advice and arming the traveller for the journey ahead. There’s a great history of the artist/teacher relationship in art. How do find juggling the tasks of imparting knowledge and pursuing your own practice? Are there connections across these processes for you?

Kent, teaching is the sacred art. It’s a ‘calling’. Almost everyone has a misguided notion of what teaching is. Students are the worst informed. The first task of the teacher is to resign from their student’s job description for their teacher. I usually resign to the whole class at the first meeting. It saves time! Sometimes I intuit that I need to speak in a foreign language (made up) for a while until everyone is quite unsettled about what class they got themselves into. Sometimes I sit amongst them waiting, like them, for the damn teacher to turn up. (Works better in an adult Ed situation). I have, on those occasions been the most complaining and put out student. Sometimes I know we need long silences and at other times we need me to pronounce upon the mission of the artist (you will, by now, be getting the gist of this). What is important is to mark our meeting as something special and promising and challenging. Not run-of-the-mill, can I have my certificate now please?

Although teachers are paid according to the time they spend in class or on the learning environment shop floor (that includes administration) that is not when they teach. I fear you will find my view difficult to digest, given everyday practices, but a teacher has the gift to share in the aspiration of his/her student. It’s not even a gift. A teacher happens to care about their student’s thinking and feeling and self growth. Students are people who expose themselves to the turmoil and uncertainty of change (heroes to my way of thinking). They choose to challenge themselves and to risk change, often exceptionally difficult changes, and they drive this process. No one can be lead to learning, and what they are lead to if that happens, is not change in any kind of paradigmic way. Sure, people can be ‘educated’ to perform as educated, but to risk all, to seek within oneself for one’s own solutions to the burning questions, no, this is a self-induced and self-revelatory process. A teacher is someone who can sense the looming moment when their student is about to change trajectory in their thoughts and is present to calmly affirm and support this change. It is a space of trust and intellectual and emotional intimacy that is absolutely safe and non predatory. I hold strong views about this sacred trust and if a teacher ever betrayed it, they must never have known a commitment to it and were therefore never a teacher and so could never again teach (refer to “It a calling”). Its one of those black and white things. Your are either a cheat or not a cheat, you cannot be a bit of a cheat.

I must say, it is such a wonderful and privileged moment to share a learning moment of new insight and amazement and excitement with a student. Now, all the regular events surrounding this moment are peripheral, be they sometimes helpful or not. Teaching is showing yourself to be challenged and everchanging, that is, showing your own eternal studenthoodness. Teaching is sharing some knowledge that you are familiar with to help your student improve particular skills. Less so is suggesting “you should look at so & so’s work etc, which are stock in trade notions of teaching. No, you should, knowing so & so’s work, delight or doubt in particular elements of your student’s work to illuminate constructs that encourage them to seek out the works of others themselves. its your student’s epiphanies that count. You can share these in small ways with them, but learning is their journey, their struggle, their driven need, and you are but a nurse to wipe their brow at the right time and show your amazement, delight and joy at their discoveries.

It must seem obvious to you that this is draining. A teacher cannot give out infinitely. An empty teacher goes through the motions cheating their student. A teacher has to be a student. In the case of art school, that means that a teacher has to also be on the change journey, that is, has to be an artist. Not a weekend artist, an artist! The only teacher of emerging artists are practicing artists who so love their own challenging journey that they delight too in the journey of others as an equal and difficult experience. Teaching is a calling.

Having just recently come through the four years of undergrad art school (and before that some years pursuing other disciplines) and doing a couple of semesters of tutoring, I totally agree with you Anton. I think it’s a rare and fabulous privilege to have a group of students, their minds and bodies racing with creative drive, to develop a connection with and embark on a development together. I saw so many students left like wilted flowers in a field of indifference and semi-bitterness by art school teachers unwilling, or perhaps unmotivated by ‘the calling’, to take the opportunity to not only assist in student growth, but to share that chance to expand together. Those teachers who did have that calling were so magnetically obvious that they stand as beacons in the foggy and dusty valleys of your memory. They have a pivotal place in the trajectory of your path.

All right, this might be my last question for you. I’ve enjoyed chatting and the vast and dense territories we’ve covered. Given that this site is dedicated to the western central highlands of Victoria I wanted to touch on your experience living in the region. Obviously the environment within which we situate ourselves has a pressing significance on us. I remember reading something by, I think Wittgenstein, about how the geography of a culture influences the language that is spoken there. The rhythm, the fluidity, the very basics of the notes and tones, all affected by whether it’s cold, temperate, mountainous, forested or urbanised. Once, when I was living in England, I was watching a doco that was set in Australia and as the subject was talking, seated as they were on a large rural property somewhere under the hot sun, a crow was cawing in the background. The sound of the Australian accent almost harmonised with the sound of the crow. This low, flat creaking sound seemed to demonstrate that both the crow and the Australian accent have been forged by the environment in which they were created.

There is actually a question here (maybe a few even, technically) – how have you found working in the environment/context of this particular part of the world? Is there a notable difference for you, in comparison to the other places you have lived and worked? And if so, how has manifested itself?

Your poetic response to my ranting is lovely, and I agree whole-heartedly with your experience of being a student in Art School. I have studied and/or taught in most of them in Victoria. I have experienced appalling art schools in which I moved amongst students as a missionary sheltering in my hands a small candle of light, and I have been privileged to be a student and to teach in a truly amazing art school, the VCA in the days of John Walker. The secret to a healthy art school is the diversity of thinking amongst staff and students. The death of an Art School is when one vision paralyses the place. I have seen some magnificent teachers and some destructive ones whose myopia and dogmatism is an expression of their own emotional stuntedness. Everyone, except themselves, knows how bad they are, but you can never get them out. Weak leadership at the higher echelons of an institution allow the unsuitable to find positions of responsibility, who in turn select sycophants and the system cements itself and processes students like a factory, often celebrating the dull and plodding student over the exciting and difficult one. Ah, now you do get me going but I will restrain myself. I just try to bring the lightness and brilliance of my VCA experiences to where ever I teach, acknowledging that the whole point of the structure is for the benefit of the students alone, encouraging fellow staff to go part time (rarely well received I note) and to make their own practice the centre of their world. Once a staff member said to me when I was lamenting about a complex student’s engagement “don’t worry Anton, they’re only here three years!” and instantly I knew what was really wrong with the educational system for emerging artists. Still, I do in particular invite each student to suck out every bit of support they can from whatever institution they are in, and that it is their responsibility to get into it, as it will be for them to draw whatever comfort they can from what can be an ungiving society (at times, but also very giving at other times too, of course) as professional artists. You do not want it on a platter. (Indeed I have seen promising students, and careers, destroyed by the excess support we tend to lavish on the selected few). Nourishing food needs to be sown, grown and owned by yourself.

I am a Warrnambool Man. That is, I am convinced that there is something about our mysterious continent that makes servants of us to it. Where you are born exerts a powerful hold over you. I need to regularly get back to Warrnambool to .. to. well, I tell my children that the colour of my eyes can only be kept by looking at the sea from Thunder point.  Too long away and my blue eyes fade, and will, no doubt, empty out and become transparently clear. Freaky! Yet when I walk around my home town I feel like a ghost. Once I walked to the end of the Pier and watched fishermen pull in fish whose big eyes grew red rings as they breathed air and died. Coming back, near the end of the pier I saw splashing in the water as a couple of fellows dragged back a man who had fallen into the sea. He had had a heart attack, I think, and lay on the pier ramp with eyes wide open and foaming mouth. The rim of his eyes had the same red ring as the brim I had looked at earlier. Back in Mia Mia I made a sculpture called ‘The biting Hour’. The sea at Warrnambool gives and, make no mistake, it takes.  Of course I want to throw everyone I don’t recognise out of Warrnambool as I walk around. Interlopers all, though I left in 1970. I have family still there, but Warrnambool, Tower Hill, and other sacred sites are where I yearn to be, but cannot be. As my father said, you cannot go back. I know what he means. Headlong rushes to turn potential into something sharable allows for no resting on laurels, no going back to comfort zones. Life is short. Still, the surveyor who laid out Warrnambool township laid out the non-existent township of Mia Mia (where I live) and so there are on parish maps the ghostly grid of Leibig St., Timor St, Lava St, exactly as laid out in Warrnambool’s street pattern. I seem to have landed in an ersatz Warrnambool, whilst all the time the real Warrnambool shape-shifts away from me with a fake port much too disneyland and cancer-like suburbanisation for what is such a culturally significant part of Victoria. Do you know how many artists come out of Warrnambool? Some of our country’s finest sculptors, including Colin Suggett, and Geoffrey Bartlett and the brilliant Irene Barbaris, and … well when you look it is a surprise at how many more. My Father’s ashes are spread there as will mine be also. What the sea at Warrnambool gives, so too, it must take. Soon I will make several bells to throw into the sea at Warrnambool in homage to its restlessness and sleeplessness. I can live in Mia Mia where my wife and I have built a bluestone house, because my children are Mia Mia people, and it is their country, of red dust at the edge of the great Victorian plains. I am a guest in my children’s country, but I do need to feel the joy, when I can, of coming again into my own country, thick with memories sewn to particular geographies and full of the same promise I felt as I grew up there. Just to show you the magical nature of this land in which we become, The Warrnambool Primary school I went to in Jamison St is number 1743. The last time I was there dreamily (as ghost tend to) looking up at the school tower with its number proudly shown, I realised that my address in Mia Mia is 1743.  No Warrnambool man (or woman) can travel too far from their country without the country around them reshaping itself to comfort you and reassure you that however hard you push against the bow string, you will sprung back to your own place in country at life’s end. It feels right to be owned by your country, and in the coming ecological challenge it may well be the only way we can survive. That is, to listen to the call of our country and be obedient to its need rather than those we perceive (wrongly) to be our own. I have enjoyed writing this epistle to you Kent, and love the way you tease out areas of reflection. I know you do forgive my strident manner, but there is much urgency to say the truth, and time is short. I need to fill as many bottles as I can in my time and heave them, with the bells, into the sea in the hope that those yet to come will find themselves born to a world with delicacies, pleasure and desires above the venal and self-pitying and cynicism that will be too often presented to them by their companions in life. Being true to ourselves lets us be true to others and perhaps we can see that we are but part of the whole. ‘From each according to their ability: to each according to their need’ as one of my most sensitive teachers put it. Utopia is a garden that needs to be grown within oneself, then the definition of oneself needs to expand to include others. It feels close to my hopeful heart!

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Epic thanks to Anton for taking the time to be so forthcoming in this interview.

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